You see, if you can’t answer this question, then we may have a problem.
Carl Rogers, an incredible psychologist, observed a quite significant process in psychological development: every individual must always strive towards self-actualization. Self-actualization is indeed a beautiful term that denotes a sort of rising towards one’s full potential. In this sense, we could say that every human being was created with a specific set of qualities that need to be developed to self-actualize. Thus, what Carl Rogers observed, and what I’m promoting, is a fundamental introspection regarding oneself – in terms of qualities - that serves the purpose of self-actualization. Allow me to present my spin on this entire concept.
Most, if not everyone reading this, should know exactly what I’m talking about; the feeling that we’re barely developing ourselves, often understood as “not doing anything constructive with our lives,” is incredibly frustrating. Ironically, this feeling may arise even if we’re doing quite well in university, or if we’ve excelled in a sport. Fortunately, the solution is simple, but the process is long and arduous. It first requires a sincere effort of introspection to accurately assess one’s skills, weaknesses and ambitions. In fact, research has shown that volunteer work is marvelous at revealing such attributes. Then – and this is the purpose of this article - it requires a plan to develop the soul, mind and body in harmony with one’s idiosyncratic qualities.
The three categories I mentioned above constitute what I call the “triforce,” yes, a term I shamelessly borrowed from The Legend of Zelda. For those unaware of The Legend of Zelda reference (a popular series from Nintendo), the triforce essentially consists of three separate parts – courage, wisdom and power – that, when combined, grant the possessor one wish. The triforce I’m referring here to is not quite different, and the analogy is surprisingly useful; indeed, I argue that we each retain the pieces of triforce within us, and each component must persistently be in a process of development. First of all, the “wisdom” refers to our intellectual capacity; it symbolizes the part of us that depends on intellectual nourishment. Second of all, there’s courage; to this, I refer to our spiritual component, that involves deep existential reflections of our being. This is the part that always needs to reflect on Allah, our purpose in life, and our sense of the “big picture.” Finally, there’s “power,” the component that involves our physical capacity. Here, we must continuously strive to develop our bodies in a healthy manner.
Now that my triforce has been introduced, I argue that in order to truly self-actualize, we must constantly nurture each fragment in a manner that best reflects our personal qualities. Again, the acknowledgement of our personal qualities can only be attained by exercising self-awareness to its fullest extent (refer to my previous article regarding the limits of exercising self-awareness on one’s own). I say this because often we hear people giving advice as to how one should ideally develop: one guy will tell you to go to the gym, another person will advise you to read an intellectually-stimulating book, and some other dude will recommend you should get up and pray for one third of the night. Now, I’m not saying these suggestions don’t develop your body, mind and soul; on the contrary, they’re all very good advice. What I am saying however, is that we shouldn’t be so quick to presume “what worked for me, will work for you.” This is a very narrow-minded approach to development (and giving advice) which often results in shame; the person in need of development experiences a defeat for not being able to live up to the standards of another. Indeed, this approach may even encourage someone to give up on a component entirely, because it’s presented in such a strict manner that discounts other options (to achieve X, you must do Y).
Instead, self-awareness is key; bearing in mind that you must, at all times, be developing your mind, body and soul, you must simultaneously appreciate that your path in self-actualization is unique - only you can find out what path that is. Getting up to pray qiyam may be difficult for you, but that shouldn’t stop you from developing yourself spiritually. What is something you enjoy doing that gives you a little iman boost every time? Listening to 5-minute lectures? Volunteering in the community? Find it. Furthermore, going to the gym isn’t cutting out for you? Find whatever other physical activity that you personally enjoy. And finally, is politics not stimulating you intellectual capacity to your liking, or do you find it just plain boring? Perhaps economics, psychology, poetry or literature fit the bill. None of this is to say that universal guidelines don’t exist (eat less fatty food, focus on your prayers, etc.); nevertheless, these guidelines tell us nothing with regards to what stage you’re at in your development. For example, maybe instead of fatty foods, you should first stop smoking, which is exponentially worse for your health. Such reflections can only be achieved with sincere and consistent introspection.
Thus, the whole point is to make the intention to develop yourself in all three domains (soul, mind and body), find the topics or activities that suit you, and work your way up from there.
And that’s incredibly important: you should ultimately feel the progression. This process is intimately connected to your personal ambitions, and continuous introspection should be providing you with that valuable insight regarding your progress. This topic, of course, touches upon countless of other categories relating to motivation, time-management, goals setting and even therapy. Nevertheless, the point of this article is for everyone to take a moment to look at themselves and assess their spiritual, intellectual and physical development.
So, where are you in the process of development?
Note: I do believe there exists a hierarchy of priority among these three components – specifically, the soul, then the mind, then the body – but that’s a topic for another post.